Well, actually, it's an Interlude. Specifically, you're getting some backstory about the Four Blind Mice - Mike's tame (mostly) hackers and resident social engineers. They're currently off on another mission, so you won't be able to enjoy them in The Kildaran much. But we thought it important you at least be able to say 'hello'!
This chapter is DEFINITELY not suitable for young eyes - I try, and I try, but the characters, you know, they just have minds of their own. They speak, and act, the way they're going to. I try and try to get them to change, but that's just how they work.
As always - ENJOY!
INTERLUDE: FOUR BLIND MICE
EIGHT MONTHS AGO
“What do we do with him?” asked Greznya Vanner.
Pat and Grez were standing outside the interrogation room, looking at a very frightened boy though the mirrored window.
His name was Evan Nicolvich, and he had been a royal pain in the ass for the past six months. He looked like any other teenager in puberty, but had a build unlike most: thin, not much taller than Grez herself and, if she was correct, not a day over fifteen.
They had known for a while that someone, locally, was attempting to hack into their servers. Cyberjacking, or at least attempted cyberjacking, was common enough coming from the big boys. CIA, NSA, DGSE, MI5 and MI6, the BND (Bundesnachrichtendienst, German Foreign Intelligence Service), SVR (Russian Foreign Intelligence Service, also called a fully-owned branch of the Russian Mafia), hell, even the Chinese Ministry of State Security had all taken a run at their computers and the secrets hidden therein. North Korea and Nigeria had tried, too, not because of who or what they were but just because it looked interesting.
Only Vanner’s experience, remaining contacts at the NSA, and Pierson’s assistance at OSOL had kept them one jump ahead so far. Layered hardware, Dungeon Traps - a dedicated server which created a new challenge every time one was broken, adapting, and trapping the hacker into an infinite loop of fake data bits and bread crumbs - stalled would-be jackers until they could be back-hacked.
Normally, they’d catch on before this happened; they had very good code cowboys and tools, too. But since the DVDs from Rozaje had been buried at the caravanserai, the daily attacks had become a serious drain on bandwidth. This was an issue, because they needed every byte they could grab.
But these all came in on outside lines, easily traceable back to sources far, far beyond the Valley. Those people took a fried motherboard or a scrambled hard drive as the price of doing business. Once identified, tagged, and warned, they would usually stop. For a while.
It was annoying, but it made the girls better at counter-hacking. They learned quickly. Vanner talked Mike into springing for a dedicated T-1 line for The Cave, and then another for Alersso to prevent shared bandwidth. Secure satellite links provided needed backups, though were too unreliable to use as a primary system.
Mike signed off on all the expense without really knowing why. He had a vague image of better access and communications for the town, maybe better connections to the capitol and the world beyond, agreed that this would be a Good Thing, and approved. Chief Adams had muttered something about bringing high-quality porn to the mountains, rather than online classes.
Then, about six months ago, attacks had started coming in from a local line. To be precise, at the physical juncture of the two T-1 lines. It looked like a direct, physical hack into the hub. At first they were amateurish, almost clumsy. Routed through only one or two servers, back through the hub, but easily repulsed. As the days, then weeks went on, they grew in skill, complexity and frequency.
Apparently the hacker wasn't just learning from failures, but also watching others make their passes at the Cave too. And then there was all the bitching from the Tigers who played COD and other first player shooters on the X-boxes and PlayStations down in the Duty Squad ready room. They weren't just losing, they were getting ‘owned’, in particular by any team that had a particular custom avatar on its side.
They tried barring the IP, but that got spoofed and he or she always managed to show up. The taunting in the chat boxes, then the live chat, and finally in their own private voice chat channels was in Georgian and laced with Keldara slang, pointing to a local source.
The first crisis was reached two months ago, shortly after Shota’s accident and emergency evacuation to the States. While he was still abroad, learning how to use his new and improved brain, Creata had made her own recovery much more quickly.
The diminutive safecracking specialist had chosen to receive a number of ‘upgrades’ as well, all paid for on her dime. Well, truckloads of dimes if she was to be believed.
There was now a chip in her brain, similar to Shota’s set but with a very different purpose indeed. While Shota used his to allow him to think, period, hers enabled her to process and store data at a rate no natural human could match. Like Shota, she had extra memory installed as well, but implanted in the core of the long bones of her body to give her some redundancy in case of damage.
Running down her right arm was a series of bioconnective ‘neurons’, leading down to her index finger. She could, essentially, place her finger on any electronic device, extrude nano-connectors and hardwire her brain to the system, crashing it or stripping it of data in milliseconds. The contact point had regenerative properties, as well, allowing her to ‘seed’ the controlled machine and retain a connection at limited distances. She’d been told it would be good for a quarter-kilometer, at best, but she thought she could at least double that. And, if she had time to plant micro-repeater transmitters, the range was effectively unlimited, though time constraints came into play. Her ‘little black boxes’ would turn into unidentifiable bits of plastic and silicone after twenty-four hours.
The system was also designed to work in other people, in a limited fashion, p art of the Manchurian program that the US had been developing with the Super-soldier initiative. It required no real conscious mental concentration on the operator's part. Just proper programming of the short-lived nanites that would be injected into the subject without their knowledge. For safety reasons, once outside the micro-factory in the host body, the nanites could only survive for a maximum of forty eight hours and only do minimal replication to achieve programmed tasks.
There was no way they could be ordered to build themselves a new host-home. Yet. Not only was it hard-wired into their molecular structure, but they required very specific dietary supplements to maintain the functioning of the factory.
In Mouse’s case, her ’factory’ was located in the marrow of the ulnar bone. Red blood cells kept it supplied with the needed raw ingredients, and if she was ever scanned, it would show up at most as a calcified growth, as the site of an old break or perhaps the beginning of bone cancer. The first was easily explained, the second could be received with faked alarm and a promise to seek a proper oncologist for testing at the first opportunity. The nanites themselves were only visible in a very fresh sample under an electron-microscope.
They lifetime of the nanites was also limited by the cells they mimicked. The invading cells would eventually cause a reaction by the target's immune system wherever the devices settled in to do their work. Effects varied from flu like, if the brain was a target, to aching limbs if muscles and neurons in those were attacked, to headaches and bloodshot eyes if sight was the target, to the injection site looking at most like a pimple or a bug bite.
To protect the user, when retracted the injectors were subjected to a low voltage high amperage charge and then basically regrown from the base out, discarding the needles in under four hours. To the operative, it felt like touching a static charge for a millisecond. To prevent both parties from noticing and reacting to it at time of contact, it was delayed until the user made a fist and bent their wrist in a certain pattern.
So now, with a simple brush with her finger, her nanobots would go to work inside her victim, doing no direct harm but quickly replicating and tapping into the subject’s nervous system. As yet, she could only exercise gross control over them - no mind-reading or behavior modification - but that was just a software problem.
She’d thought about what would be required for full control of a subject. Basically, she’d need multiple contact points, over a longer period of time to ensure her nanites all had the proper programming. This carried risks, too, as the longer she delayed in implementing control, the more likely it was the subject’s immune system would begin to react. Probably better, for now, to go with simple positive/negative reinforcement and training.
Her final modification was the implantation, in her left arm, of a biogel ‘battery pack’ between the ulna and radius. This pack, in turn, was connected to a monofilament defense system - she could ‘throw’ filaments from her fingertips by flicking her fingers, implant them in her target, and deliver a jolt of electricity powerful enough to knock almost any man flat.
At least, within two meters. And it took practice. A lot of practice. Retracting the lines took time, and regrowing them would be a pure bitch, she was sure. She carried around the plans, of course. That was one of the first hacks she had attempted, while still in the hospital. She needed to modify the software to ensure that nobody could pull a Pinocchio on her. Now, if anyone tried, she’d be instantly aware of the failed attempt and be able to take appropriate countermeasures, Kildar’s permission or not.
The biggest negative was that, while the individual systems scavenged from her body, the biogel consumed a lot of calories. So much that her metabolism now resembled that of a shrew, rather than a mouse. Failure to stoke her fires would undoubtedly wreak havoc with her normal growth rate. She shuddered to think what might happen if she ever lost access to the well-stocked kitchens in the caravanserai. Another minor consideration was that, at full power, a discharge caused first-degree burns to her. On the interior of her arm. Talk about an itch you couldn’t scratch!
It was with Creata’s aid, and her little toys, that they were able to push back the attacks and finally begin to trace them back. Although, Vanner had expressed his concerns quite forcefully before acquiescing.
“Fuck no! I have enough problems keeping her out of the system as it stands now! If she’s allowed to interface directly, what kind of shit do you think she’ll get into?”
“Pat, she’s promised not to do that.”
“She has! And I think she means it.”
“Because,” Mike added, grinning wickedly, “If she doesn’t, I promised her that I wouldn’t paddle her ass like I did after her little Ponzi scheme fell apart.”
“No?” said Vanner, intrigued despite himself.
“No. I promised that I would take her down to Stasia’s dungeon and let Catrina and Elena ‘practice’ on her. Those two get very horny, and very bored, and since none of the Keldara will touch them as ‘spoiled goods‘, well… I‘ve caught them more than once playing ‘Stasia and Mike‘ when they thought I‘d be away. So I figure, if I give them a victim of their own, and Stasia and I go down with the popcorn and to give pointers…”
“Oh, man, that’s just mean.” The two Keldara girls were rescued sex slaves Mike had taken into his harem after they returned from a school he’d found in Argentina. Although there was no visible evidence of their years of captivity, being so far away from the Valley had been extremely difficult for both, and they had begged to return.
Once back, they began to realize the depth of their mistake. Yes, they were among the Keldara, but with few exceptions - Elena’s brother, Oleg, and his wife Lydia had made them welcome, as had Juris Mahona, Catrina’s cousin - but most of the village had simply ignored them.
Eventually, they had stopped going down to the houses, socializing only with the remaining harem girls and the militia rotating through the caravanserai. They couldn’t even mix with the men from Alersso, as this brought too many negative associations of being ‘sent to town’. Besides, the Keldara and the locals didn’t tend to mix well.
Unfortunately, they both had mischievous streaks that came out when bored, and they were frequently bored in the caravanserai. Both highly intelligent, it hadn’t taken them long to master every dirty practical joke they could find, from harmless, camp tricks - shaving cream on the hand, short sheeting beds - to more provocative ones - they had broken into Mike’s bedroom more than once and placed tiny cameras. He still wasn’t sure he’d found them all.
The solution, at least in the short term, was to get them training. They did hand-to-hand. They did weapons training. Bridgewater, the former MI6 agent, had taken a shine to Catrina. He’d trained her in sneak techniques, observation, and destructive Hayduking. Elena had fallen under Kurosawa’s wings, learning Kendo and the various and sundry uses of herbs, from aphrodisiacs to paralytics.
And they shared Mike’s bed.
Neither had enjoyed being a slave - Elena, in particular, held a burning hatred for all slavers - but they both had learned to enjoy sex. And as a social engineering tool, there was nothing to compare it to. So spending the night with Mike, either apart or together, was always a treat for them.
It never happened enough, though, and they refused to go to any of the other eligible males in the household. It felt too much like their whoring days, to them. So they spent long nights pleasuring each other - ‘Mike for ecstasy, girls for comfort’ they said - and plotting ways to get into his bed more frequently.
Chief Adams, a victim of their early pranks, had decided to steer clear of the dangerous duo. Despite all the promised pleasures they'd whisper into his ears during meal times, he’d simply excuse himself and seek solace and release with one of the house hookers instead.
Leaving the two pouting and seeking another target.
During their years in slavery they had learned to be stealthy and to learn things on the laps of the various security geeks that helped maintain the facilities they had to work in. Two on one, one blowing, one asking questions, often would quickly turn into a lesson they'd file away for future use.
The two were responsible for the black market within the slave quarters of the expensive goodies and treats that their boss kept for himself in his supposedly secure pantry. The wine-cellar? Cracked too.
They'd follow the guards barefoot as they patrolled the grounds, seeking out weak points and patterns. Storing up information, money and supplies for the day they would escape and return home.
But the Kildar came instead. No, not for them, but the chance was given to them. They got into the armory, loaded up on ammo, weapons and some medical supplies and ran to help the attackers. One, Catrina swore was her cousin. Braving fire and even donating a grenade or two along the way, they came to the Tigers’ rescue and eventually escaped with them.
They tracked Mike’s patterns. No, he hadn’t gotten all of the cameras. They saw who was his favorites, and what he had them do, and strove to emulate their behavior. But the one thing that defeated them was Stasia’s dungeon. Nobody had access. Period full stop.
So they practiced, as best they could, on each other, taking turns being the top and the bottom. Yet they always felt there was something lacking. Eventually, they decided that they needed a third person to be their exclusive bottom, so they could study reactions. Surprisingly, they hadn’t yet found a suitable volunteer.
So they took the problem to the Chief.
Once he stopped laughing, he had offered a little advice. “Talk to Mike. No, really! If you think you need to learn how to be submissive, he’s the one to teach you.”
“But we want to surprise him!” said Catrina.
“That’s a problem,” agreed Adams. “Okay. Still go to Mike, and tell him that you need a bottom.”
“You think that will work?” asked Elena doubtfully.
“Worth a shot,” the Chief said, shrugging.
And so they had. Mike had done better at concealing his laughter and had promised that he would find them someone to work on, but that it might take a little time. He said ‘victim’, too, not ‘volunteer’, but they were so elated they missed the slip.
Apparently, Creata was in the running for the position, though she might not be fully aware of the implications.
“Okay, I think she’ll probably keep her word,” Vanner finally said.
And now Evan was in the interrogation room, traced by a hacker who, while not better, was light-years faster than anyone else could be.
“I say we scare the shit out of him and ship him to Siberia,” suggested Pat.
“Too late, on the first, and I don’t know if Siberia is far enough away,” answered his wife.
“We could just disappear him,” he said, diffidently.
“No! Look at him, he’s just a boy!” It was true. He couldn’t have been more than fourteen, fifteen. “His voice keeps breaking when we try to question him!”
“Well, that’s it from me,” Pat confessed.
“Let me talk to him,” said Creata from behind them.
Grez jumped. “Mouse! That’s not polite!”
“Sorry, Grez. Please? May I?”
Pat and Grez traded a look. “Sure, why not?” said Pat. “You want an escort?”
“No,” she said, waggling her left hand. “I think I can handle him.” She crept from the observation room and entered the cell.
“Hello, Evan. My name is Creata, but you can call me Mouse.”
“I did nothing,” sullenly insisted the boy.
“Evan, I know you did it. I was the one who tracked you, who planted the trace on your computer.”
“You!” His head rose sharply. Mouse could see him clearly for the first time. Thin, auburn hair - obviously, some Keldara blood in him - Tartar cheekbones, blue eyes, narrow nose. Not handsome, by any means, but not repulsive either. “How could you track me? I was careful! I used others as my robots!”
“I’m afraid I can’t tell you that,” said Mouse sadly. “At least, not yet. I have some questions for you, though, and if you answer them how I need you to, I think everything will work out just fine.”
“You can ask,” he said, dropping his head again. “They’ve already tried,” he said with a hint of defiance. “Threatened me, even. I didn’t tell them anything, and I don’t promise to tell you anything either.”
“Good.” She pulled over a chair. “Evan, look at me.” He looked up. “Tell me what you see.”
“A little girl.”
It certainly looked that way. Mouse was barely five feet - 1.5 meters - tall, with delicate bones, a narrow face, and dark brown hair. She’d grown her hair out since Albania, and it now fell down below her skinny butt. She didn’t have much of a chest yet, and probably never would, and her hips were far too narrow to suggest any illicit thoughts in any man without a Lolita complex.
Apparently, Evan did. His eyes sparked, and he blushed at a hidden thought.
Mouse smiled. She rarely created such a reaction in a man, and her plans changed in an instant.
“You can think that,” she said, stroking his cheek with her right hand. Her nails raised goosebumps across his entire body. “But I am very much more. I am the best safecracker the Kildar has, the best programmer too, and I have plans outside of this Valley.”
(“Wonder where she’s going with this?” asked Pat.
“Shh! I’m sure we’ll find out,” answered Grez.)
“Everyone has plans outside of this Valley,” retorted Evan. “Everyone with a brain, that is.”
“Do you?” said Mouse, archly.
“Of course I do!”
“And how do you plan to get the money to get out of the Valley?”
“Getting money is easy,” he scoffed. “Send out an internet scam, spam it to millions. A few will always answer, and you can suck them in.”
“And how did you get to the internet?”
“My father has a repair shop,” Evan answered. “He shares a connection with the bank. He fixes toasters and televisions and refrigerators. The new stuff, he gives to me to fix - computers, sometimes cell phones, DVD players. He can’t figure it out,” he said contemptuously. “I taught myself to read Japanese. Nobody else here can do that!”
(“I can,” said Vanner.)
“How does this get you online? I‘ve seen the connection in his shop; it‘s barely enough to order parts! It‘s dialup, for Thor‘s sake!”
“The fools who bring it in have no idea what is wrong, or how long it will take to fix, and neither does my father. So I look, and tell them that it will take this long and I have to order that part. They pay me, I get the part and put it in, everybody’s happy. My father, though, he doesn’t ask what happens to the old parts. These, I keep, and fix myself. Or sometimes,” he said, animation filling his face, “There isn’t anything really wrong with it, or it’s just a software patch they haven’t done, but I need a part. So I lie, I tell them what I need, and they end up paying for me to build my own system.” He smiled broadly. “It’s really powerful, and dispersed, too! Bet you didn’t even find it, did you?”
“Clever,” admitted Mouse. “How long have you been doing this?”
“I’ve been faking out parts for three, four years now, but at first I was just taking their money and keeping it. Then I figured out the new scam, and have been doing that for at least two years.”
“And nobody’s caught on?”
“How can they? Their gadget works after I fix it, so they don’t care. And I’m careful not to pull this on people who might think, like Tyurin, or that banker.”
(“Cocky little prick. Thinks he’s God.”)
“Why were you trying to penetrate the Kildar’s network?” said Mouse, getting to the core issue.
“To see if I could. I thought it would be easy? But then it got tougher and tougher, but I couldn’t let them beat me. I beat every one of the Tigers on their silly little games, so I figured the Kildar wouldn‘t be much tougher.”
“Ah. So you didn’t want to back off from the challenge? That could be dangerous.”
“I don’t mind the danger, and I like the challenge,” he said. But the mention of danger seemed to have brought him back to his surroundings, the concrete walls, the blinding overhead light, the drain in the floor.
“What happens to me now?” he asked.
“Now? Now I make you an offer you can’t refuse,” said Mouse.
(“Where’d she see The Godfather?”
“I think Chief Adams has a copy. Quiet!”)
“You have two choices - a binary set, you might say. Choice one, you come to work here, and you and I build the greatest private cyber warfare center the planet has ever seen. You make lots of money, play with the most amazing toys, and maybe even get laid. I can promise you, though, that even if you don’t get laid, you’ll have a good time,” she ended as seductively as Catrina could teach her.
“Who, you? I wouldn’t fuck you! You’ve got no tits!” He got defensive, sensing a trap, but his eyes quickly took in her body again.
“Ah, but I have something much, much more important,” she said, practicing the voice some more.
“What’s that?” he said scornfully.
“Watch.” She flicked her fingers. Evan was sitting less than a meter away, an easy target. He barely felt the filaments contact his skin.
She started to send electricity through the system into him, where her nanobots had been busy. She’d programmed them to tap into the most basic parts of his nervous system, the areas that received pain, and pleasure. She connected with the pleasure receptors.
A wave of ecstasy swept over him.
She never moved, he never took his eyes off her, but he was paralyzed with the waves of sensations erupting up and down his spine and exploding in his brain. He flashed memories of every time he'd masturbated and the two times he'd snuck off to the ‘house’ in town so he too could brag like the guys that he'd been with a woman, even though he'd only had enough for a blow job each time.
It was all of that. More!
Then the program settled into feedback mode. He could swear that he felt her take his cock into his mouth and expertly blowing him. He could feel her tongue teasing his shaft and her hand cupping his balls, but when he forced his eyes open, she was simply leaning back in her chair, with a Mona Lisa smile on her face.
“You want more? Very well.” She thought for a moment, then decided to play back a recording of Elena’s orgasms. This would be interesting on a male, she thought.
Her arm warmed slightly. The effect on Evan was much more pronounced.
It was too much for his teenage male resistance and he came, splashing the inside of his pants. His body, obeying the pattern set by Elena, ordered a second orgasm, then a third. His eyes began to roll as each successive wave brought intense pleasure, and an edge of pain. His knuckles grew white as he grasped the edge of the table, gasping for breath, face fully flushed, and his eyes - his eyes were either begging her to stop or to continue, she wasn’t sure. She chose to stop, and shortly he seemed to have gathered his breath.
“That is option one. Option two, you can refuse the offer. I’m afraid that wouldn’t be nearly as pleasant.”
His skin was on fire! That’s how it felt. He couldn’t move - he was paralyzed, he was burning up, Oh, God, how was she doing this!
And it stopped, mercifully, after only a couple seconds.
His nerves sang, and tears ran down his face from the pain and the pleasure and the shame of coming inside his pants before this girl.
“I could do that all day. Either one. Or the Kildar could have you shot. Then we’d have to get the backhoe,” she said sadly. “And that would be most unfortunate. I’d plant flowers for you though. What are your favorites?” She stood. It would take another few seconds for the wires to fully retract; she didn’t want them to drag on the ground.
“I’ll leave you a moment, give you a chance to think it over.” She tossed him a towel. “I’m sorry, but I don’t have any clean clothes for you. Did I mention that the Kildar would provide those, too, if you agree? If not, well, you won’t care about soiled clothes. Neither will the worms.“ She exited the room and re-entered the observation area.
“Recruiting?” asked Vanner.
“Yes,” said Mouse. “He’s very good, especially with tech. I think we’re going to need him.”
“Did you do your little Borg trick on him?” he asked.
“Me?” said Mouse, innocently. “Why, Chief Warrant Officer! How can you think such a thing?”
“Don’t let me catch you doing that,” he warned her sternly.
“Oh, I won’t.”
“Won’t what? Do it? Or let me catch you?” But she was already out the area and back into the room. Damn.
“You know,” said Grez, watching Evan shake hands with Mouse, obviously choosing option number one, the towel covering his groin. “Those two are going to be tough to handle together.”
“She’s hanging out with Catrina and Elena,” added Vanner. “I’ve seen them in the foyer. They’ll be giggling like school kids, then suddenly stop when someone gets too close.”
“What is that story? Three Blind Mice?”
“Better make it four.”
“Is that a prediction? Or a curse?”